THE GODFATHER PART II is a rarity in Hollywood: a sequel that works as well as, or better than, the original. The film follows the Corleone mob family in two very different stories: the first with Michael (Al Pacino) in 1950’s Nevada and Cuba and the second with Robert De Niro playing a younger version of Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone as we see his beginnings on the Lower East Side.
The film broke all sorts of rules. It was the first sequel to be nominated, much less win, the Oscar for Best Picture. De Niro became the first person to win for playing the same role as a previous winner (Brando), albeit a younger version of the character. Pacino was nominated again for his role as Michael, this time in the lead category as opposed to his earlier supporting nomination. And finally, legendary Italian composer, Nino Rota, went home a winner.
In 1972, after Rota originally received a nomination for Original Dramatic Score for THE GODFATHER (thereby becoming the instant frontrunner), it was found that portions of the score, including the haunting Love Theme, had been used in 1957’s FORTUNELLA, also scored by Rota.
Ballots were re-sent to members of the Music Branch, and on the second ballot, the nomination was rescinded, paving the way for John Addison’s score to SLEUTH to take the fifth slot. Charlie Chaplin won for his sentimental LIMELIGHT, a 1952 film that was finally shown in Los Angeles in 1972, thereby qualifying it for Oscar consideration.
Once 1974 and GODFATHER II rolled around, it was the same situation, with many of the original GODFATHER themes appearing in the sequel, but this time no one cared and the Academy seized a chance to right an injustice from two years earlier.
Rota provided the Italian themes and Carmine Coppola, the director’s father, coordinated the contemporary music of the 50s. Never once do you feel like the two composers are at odds with each other. Each contributes marvelous musical moments.
The tarantella for the carpet-stealing scene reappears later in the film as Vito’s importing business grows. The lovely theme for Kay (Diane Keaton) is has a contemporary 50s feel to it, simple and innocent. But it is the dramatic theme for young Vito, especially as an immigrant viewing the Statue of Liberty for the first time, that is the outstanding theme.
Though I personally would have voted for Richard Rodney Bennett’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, it’s tough to deny an award for Rota and those popular melodies, even it was a few years behind schedule.